A half-hour tour of Target filled my basket with most of the items that would improve my comfort. Bananas for the B.R.A.T. diet which has to follow my imprudent ingestion of dairy; a new box of butterfly bandages to deploy when I next sink a knife into my finger and wish to avoid taking myself to the ER; off-season oranges for the vitamin C that my achy chest needs; spray for the place by the front door that my aging dog mistakes for a patch of ground from time to time.
I tried to buy wound sealant powder and learned that the pharmacy at Target is actually a CVS and too small to stock that product. I could have bought a styptic pencil but it’s not the same, and I would have had to wait in the pharmacy line to pay for the inferior product. I declined and headed to the main check-out counters, skirting around a gaggle of adorable children with chocolate smeared on their faces. Their mother didn’t notice me as she scrubbed the smallest one’s face with a tissue.
I by-passed the first of three open checkers and ended near the front of the store at Aisle 7. The clerk was giving her entire focus to the customer ahead of me, whose transaction was complete but who tarried, talking with broad gestures and a lively disposition. I listened as I unloaded my purchases, toying with the first-aid kit ($7.99 against five bucks for a box of twenty butterflies) but finally placing it on the conveyor belt.
Then the clerk turned to me. How are you, she asked. I got the feeling of genuine interest. I considered answering honestly, just briefly, and then replied, I’m okay, thanks. How are you?
She paused with an item in her hand. Did you have a bad day?
The overhead music clashed with the ringing in my ears. I met the lady’s eyes. How does she define ‘bad day’, I thought.
Do I tell her about last night, standing over my bathroom sink with torrents of Coumadin-laced blood gushing from my hand, threatening my grandmother’s house-coat?
About my fierce resistance to struggling into clothes to drive myself to the emergency room; to sitting alone in a brightly-lit triage; to missing the tax-filing deadline while a fatigued doctor sutures my hand?
Or should I speak of sitting in a mediation room that morning, listening to a man berate his adopted sister, who sits in a cell block on the other end of a telephone? Should I mention that their mothers had been sisters who lost their own parental rights, so that this pair of cousins had both been adopted by their grandmother? She fell into her mother’s drug habit while he turned both straight-laced and cynical. Now he and his wife push for adoption of their nephew, whom my client has not seen for a year and who has been in their care for twenty-one of his twenty-three months. I listened to his harsh words, hearing his crude grammar and foul language. I wondered which would be worse for the child — being raised by a mother who had spent twelve months in jail possibly being scared straight; or by an uncle who would not let his wife speak and who called his own sister a miserable, pathetic failure in front of virtual strangers?
What about the burdens of the world — my fear for this country which faces a frighteningly significant election in three weeks? Should I mention that? Should I tell this woman, with her broad countenance and warm brown eyes, about my fears for my own approaching twilight years — how I feel that I’m just beginning to understand how to help the world but my body fails me? How I worry that I will never make the impact that I strain to insure, because one of the viruses that rage through my blood will suddenly gain momentum and lay me out? Would she care about the eight years of blog entries that I yearn to turn into a book? Or the scores of abuse victims which still need my help, who live every waking moment in fear, and who tremble and quake as the night falls? Should I mention them?
In the ten seconds between query and answer, standing in Aisle 7, with a line building behind me, my life flashed before me, along with the lives of everyone who has crossed my path. But I mentioned none of this to the cashier. I held out my left hand and said, simply, I cut my finger last night.
Somehow she knew everything else. Not the details, of course; but the weight of the world on my shoulders. She gestured and replied, Yet here you are, alive, buying bandages. I continued the thought: And I made it to work today. She laughed. Well, there you go then, honey, you all right.
And the lady who was next in line suddenly laughed and chimed in with, We all can say that, we all right. Everybody nodded. The clerk finished bagging my purchases . I thanked her. I pushed my cart out of the way and flashed a smile backwards, towards the people behind me. I waved my bandaged hand and they all returned my farewell, from behind their laden carts, waiting their turn in Aisle 7.
I stopped at the Starbucks at the end of the register to get something cold to drink. The young man at the counter asked how I was. I just got waited on by the nicest person on the planet, I think, I told him. He said that he’d mention it to the manager. She deserves to be recognized, he asserted. I agreed. I paid for my drink, then took myself out into the night for the journey home.
It’s the nineteenth day of the thirty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.